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The “Bad and Putrid” Disneyfication of Bambi

Fairy tales. Why have they survived a thousand years of re-telling? How do they adapt to reflect changing times, places, and storytellers? And what is it about them that captivates us from early childhood and continues to intrigue us throughout our lives? In this episode of Book Dreams, Eve and Julie explore the magic of these familiar stories with scholar, author, and teacher Jack Zipes, one of the world’s leading authorities on fairy tales, folklore, and children’s literature. They talk about the lasting power of classics like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, and also about Jack’s new translation of The Original Bambi: The Story of a Life in the Forest, by the Austro-Hungarian Jewish writer Felix Salten, which was the source material for the 1942 Disney film.

Jack explains that the novel is “a brilliant and profound story of how minority groups throughout the world have been brutally treated,” an “allegory about the weak and powerless” that is both “dystopic and sobering.” By contrast, “The stupidity of the movie is so outrageous that as I was doing research on this book, I literally almost threw up.” They talk, too, about how Jack’s experiences as an activist leader during the social upheavals of the 1960s lead him to a career in children’s literature: “I realized if there's going to be a movement that really digs in and has roots in the majority of people, we have to learn how to teach critically and develop methods in which children would be able to begin to think for themselves and continue to be curious, ask questions, and also take interest in groups in the United States with which they are not familiar.”

Jack Zipes is Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota. He has written, translated, and edited dozens of books, including The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Why Fairy Tales Stick, and Don't Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales of North America and England. In addition to his scholarly work, Jack is an active storyteller in public schools and has worked with children's theaters in Europe and the United States. Among his many awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, the International Brothers Grimm Award, and the World Fantasy Convention Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2018, Jack founded the publishing house, Little Mole & Honey Bear, which republishes historical children’s books with timeless values in order to “preserve the things that make us human and stand up to forces that would tear our society apart.”

The Original Bambi: The Story of a Life in the Forest

"Bambi is quite remarkable: a meditation on powerlessness and survival told with great economy and sophistication."--Bill McKibben, New York Times

"In The Original Bambi, the distinguished translator Jack Zipes, has sought to restore both the dignity and the relevance of Salten’s vision; to rescue it, in a manner of speaking, from Disneyfication. . . . [The book is] bracingly free of the encrustation of sugar that the tale has accumulated over the past 100 years."--Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal

"Wonderful black-and-white illustrations. . . . Zipes is knowledgeable about his subject matter."--Kathryn Schulz, New Yorker

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